The incredible meaning of propitiation.
Lesson 55 from The HOPE Study Guide
…whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.
– Romans 3:25
Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
– Hebrews 2:17
…and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
– 1 John 2:2
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
– 1 John 4:10
At the cross Jesus took our sin upon Himself. He paid the penalty for our sin. He became our substitute. At the cross God’s justice was satisfied, and His love fulfilled. Then Jesus said, “It is accomplished.” And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.
– The HOPE, Chapter 10
OBSERVE & CONSIDER
In the previous lesson we considered that Jesus’ work on the cross resolved a dilemma of divine proportions: it fulfilled God’s love for man and, at the same time, satisfied His righteous justice in regard to sin. There is something more that was satisfied by Jesus on the cross – God’s anger at sin and its destructive effect on this world.
Have you ever heard or read of something so evil that it turns your stomach? Many people respond to these kinds of stories by saying, “If God is so good, then how can He allow such a thing to take place?” When people say this, it is an indication that there are some truths of which they are not aware.
Regarding sin and its effect in the world, God has more anger than we can understand. But there is a reason that God doesn’t just pour out His anger and judge this sinful world immediately. We can know this reason from 2 Peter 3:9-10 , “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.”
From this verse we see what will someday happen to this world and all of its works–it will all be burnt up. Ultimately, God isn’t trying to preserve or rescue this sin infected world; He is creating a new one (Revelation 21:1). But as much as God is angered by sin in this world, this verse also tells us Jesus is not slow about His promise (to return and to judge the world), but He is patient because He wishes that none should perish. In other words, as intense as His anger is over sin, His love for people is even more intense.
Though His judgment of this world may not be immediate, it is imminent and inevitable.1 And it will be terrible. This brings us back to the point of today’s lesson.
In each of the Bible verses quoted at the beginning of this lesson, you’ll find the word, “propitiation.” Simply put, this word means that all of God’s wrath for the sin of this world was poured out on Jesus and satisfied at the cross.2 Theologian J.I. Packer says that propitiation is “the heart of the Gospel,” and that it is key to understanding the Bible in general.3
For those who have placed their trust in Jesus, the implication of propitiation is nothing less than incredible. It means that, though God’s anger will one day be poured out on those who reject Him, He will never be angry at those who have placed their faith in Jesus. If you have placed your faith in Jesus, He may discipline you because He loves you (Hebrews 12:6, Hebrews 10), but He will never again be angry at you because Jesus took it all on the cross.
ASK & REFLECT
- Have you ever been angry at someone? Have you ever said or thought, “I can’t believe he did that to me?” Human anger is usually triggered by a wrong suffered, often unexpectedly. God’s anger is different than that. He not only knows about every sinful thing we have done, He knows about every sinful thing we will do in the future.4 Knowing this, do you believe God ever thinks, “I can’t believe he did that”?
- Because of Jesus’ work on the cross, God’s anger over your future sinful acts is already propitiated (satisfied). Do you have difficulty believing this? Why or why not?
DECIDE & DO
Peace with God (Romans 5:1) is a priceless gift. But as we have considered in previous lessons, a gift is not yours until you receive it. It is entirely possible to be convinced that you are going to heaven because you really believe that Jesus paid for your sins, but at the same time to feel that God is angry at you for something you have done. Some gifts are harder to receive than others, not because the one giving the gift is making it hard, but because we are making it hard. Feelings don’t change quickly or easily. But over time, what we feel will be changed by what we know. If you struggle to experience peace with God, if it is hard for you to believe that God is never angry with you, then memorize and meditate on the Bible verses cited at the beginning of this lesson. Study them in context of the verses that surround them. Ask God to make His truth come alive in you. He will do it because He is faithful to His Word.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
- John Piper, Jesus Christ Is an Advocate for Sinners. (From a sermon delivered on February 10, 1985; © 2006, Desiring God). (http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/jesus-christ-is-an-advocate-for-sinners). Retrieved November 8, 2006.
12 Peter 3:7 – “But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”
2J.I. Packer, Knowing God. (InterVarsity Press, 1973, p.167). Packer quotes John Murray’s definition of propitiation (from his book The Atonement) as follows: “The doctrine of propitiation is precisely this: that God loved the objects of His wrath so much that He gave His own Son to the end that He by His blood should make provision for the removal of this wrath. It was Christ’s so to deal with the wrath that the loved would no longer be objects of wrath, and love would achieve its aim of making the children of wrath the children of God’s good pleasure.”
3Ibid. p. 172. Packer writes: “A further point must now be made. Not only does the truth of propitiation lead us to the heart of the New Testament gospel; it also leads us to a vantage–point from which we can see to the heart of many other things, too. When you stand on top of Snowdon, you see the whole of Snowdonia spread out round you, and you have a wider view than you can get from any other point in the area. Similarly, when you are on top of the truth of propitiation, you can see the entire Bible in perspective, and you are in a position to take the measure of vital matters which cannot be properly grasped on any other terms. In what follows, five of these will be touched on: the driving force in the life of Jesus; the destiny of those who reject God; God’s gift of peace; the dimensions of God’s love; and the meaning of God’s glory. That these matters are vital to Christianity will not be disputed. That they can only be understood in the light of the truth of propitiation cannot, we think, be denied.”
4Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. (Edited by R.K. Harrison, Howard Vos, and Cyril Barber; Originally published by Moody Press, 1988). “OMNISCIENCE. The divine attribute of perfect knowledge. This is declared in Psalm 33:13-15 ; Psalm 139:11-12 ; Psalm 147:5; Proverbs 15:3;Isaiah 40:14; Isaiah 46:10; Acts 15:18; 1 John 3:20; Hebrews 4:13, and in many other places. The perfect knowledge of God is exclusively His attribute. It relates to Himself and to all beyond Himself. It includes all things that are actual and all things that are possible. Its possession is incomprehensible to us, and yet it is necessary to our faith in the perfection of God’s sovereignty. The revelation of this divine property like that of others is well calculated to fill us with profound reverence. It should alarm sinners and beget confidence in the hearts of God’s children and deepen their consolation (see Job 23:10; Psalm 34:15-16 ;Psalm 90:8; Jeremiah 17:10; Hosea 7:2; 1 Peter 3:12-14 ). The Scriptures unequivocally declare the divine prescience and at the same time make their appeal to man as a free and consequently responsible being.”